CARSON CITY — In testimony Thursday to Nevada lawmakers, state officials listed hard realities, tough choices and increased waiting lists among issues they face as a result of Gov. Jim Gibbons’ proposed budget cuts to mental health services.
Funding for state mental health services would decrease 5 percent, to $473 million, although overall human services spending, accounting for about a third of the state’s general funds for the coming two fiscal years, is up.
Gibbons has proposed closing 11 of the state’s 21 rural mental health clinics, and increasing the number of patients per staff member at mental health facilities in Reno and Las Vegas.
Along with the elimination of several program staff positions, some custodial and administrative staff also would be cut.
Dr. Harold Cook, head of the state Mental Health and Developmental Services Division, said the reductions will mean longer waits for service, fewer job and training programs and possible elimination of services such as life-skill activities.
Cook told a joint Senate-Assembly budget subcommittee that people have questioned the hard decisions that health agencies have had to make as a result of the governor’s spending plan.
"But sometimes we have to make a choice to reduce a service that may not be essential to the person’s health and well being, in order to provide a service to another person so that their health and well being can be maintained."
Also, funding for a contract with the University of Nevada that provides feedback to Cook’s agency and a report to lawmakers would be eliminated.
But Cook said the budget adds $8 million for three regional centers run by the division. There are about 580 people combined on waiting lists for residential services at the three facilities.
"Despite cuts, they have grown and that’s a rare event," Cook said.
Edward Guthrie of Opportunity Village Association for Retarded Citizens in Las Vegas said any available federal stimulus funds should be used to reduce program wait lists, which he described as "probably one of the most important parts of the budget."
Jackie Borges came from Reno with her 23-year-old son, Matthew, who has cerebral palsy, to tell lawmakers that she’s frustrated there is no money for programs that would allow her to get training so she can help her son and start a transition service for young people with developmental problems.
"I would like you to consider putting the needs of disabled citizens first and foremost," Borges said. "I think we are going to be judged on how it is that we treat our most vulnerable."
Sen. Bob Coffin, D-Las Vegas, said state health officials are working under difficult circumstances.
"We know this is not a budget that the people who run development services would have liked to see," Coffin said. "They really submitted the best budget they could, but it was cut from there. So it’s not their fault. Understand that."